Visuospatial problems

Visuospatial abilities refer to the way you relate visual information to the space around you. You are using your visuospatial ability when you:

  • use a map to get from one place to another, rather than relying on directions
  • walk through doorways - rather than bumping into the door frames
  • drive or cross the road - judging vehicle distance and speed accurately
  • look at something and pick it up – guiding your hand accurately to the item you want

If you have visuospatial problems, you may find it hard to interpret what you see and act appropriately. This is not the same as having problems with your eyesight. Your eyes may be perfectly able, but your brain is not able to make sense of the information your eyes are taking in.

You might find it difficult to work out where things are or to judge how quickly something or someone is moving. You could be more likely to bump into things or have trouble picking objects up. If you also have numbness in your hands, a tendency to fumble when reaching for objects can become a significant problem. 

Who gets visuospatial problems?

People with MS often have problems with thinking and memory, also called cognitive problems. Visuospatial problems are one kind of common cognitive problem, affecting around 20-25% of people with MS. They may be more common in children with MS, and in men with MS.

Visuospatial issues in MS arise as a result of nerve damage to particular brain regions, and in the reduction of connectivity between brain regions. It is also likely that sleep disturbance can make visuospatial issues more severe, especially sleep apnoea, where the oxygen supply to the brain is intermittently interrupted during sleep.

What is the impact of visuospatial problems?

To other people, visuospatial problems can look like clumsiness, but to the person experiencing them it can be unsettling and upsetting. Visuospatial problems can make living with other MS symptoms more difficult, for example in preparing and taking oral or injectable medicines.

Driving can be dangerous if judging distance and speed accurately becomes problematic. A US study in 2014 showed that driving violations were more common in people with MS, and that this was linked to damage to a particular brain region.

If this is an issue that concerns you, contact Driving Mobility to arrange an assessment of your driving ability and how MS might affect it.

What strategies can help?

You can work on reducing the impact of visuospatial problems, either alone or with help from a rehabilitation professional who specialises in cognitive rehabilitation. You could try the following ideas:

  • reducing distractions so that you can concentrate on each task
  • breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • dealing with any sleep problems you have
  • cognitive rehabilitation exercises – practicing and improving your skills with a rehabilitation specialist, or by using a 'brain-training' game or app.

Find out more

Dehning, M et al.
Neuropsychological performance, brain imaging, and driving violations in multiple sclerosis.
Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014 Oct;95(10):1818-23
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